Monday, October 26, 2009

is this hell, or a life sized board game?

They lure you in with beautiful room sets, all sleek and clean and homey. See what you can do with only 350 square feet? A bedroom! A bathroom! A modern kitchen! Storage everywhere! A tiny office with an ultra cool desk and chair. They make it fun to shop, those Swedes.

The first time I set foot in an Ikea store, I fell in love. Everything was so stylish and simply designed, and oh, so cheap! Because I had stopped in on the way home from a field trip to the Seattle Art Museum with a couple of photo stylist friends, we didn't spend much time there that first day. Just long enough to buy a few cheap picture frames and get a sense of the wonder that is SWEDISH DESIGN. Little did I know that this short stopover would be the beginning of a love/hate relationship.

It's a good two and a half hour drive from Portland to the Ikea store in Renton, Washington. I began making that trip every few months, shopping for props to use on photo shoots, like the time I hauled about 800 lbs of laminate flooring, a bed frame, and countless mirrors, frames, towels and other do-dads home in a 1986 Colt Vista station wagon.

The old Vista made many such trips. The poor little thing was clearly not meant to haul such a heavy load, but she got us safely home with our booty time after time. I loved that car. But I was very happy when they finally decided Portland was big enough for its own store.

Ikea stores are designed to lead you through the entire place to entice you to buy something you didn't know you wanted, but find you suddenly need. It's a little like stepping into a giant board game of Chutes and Ladders.

You follow the arrows through the store, going from Textiles & Rugs to the Bath Shop, and on through to Home Organization, and if you're not paying attention to the arrows and make a wrong turn, you could end up back at Textiles & Rugs. So the Ikea folks have thoughtfully added "shortcuts" between departments that usually end up getting you even more lost. It can be a very disorienting experience, and you may feel like a rat trapped in a maze full of cheese* at every turn. (*I was going to name a Swedish cheese here...but after looking up "havarti" and realizing it was actually a Danish cheese, I wondered what kind of cheese the Swedes made, and all I can say is don't ever Google the term "swedish cheese.")

So, where was I going with this? Oh right. My love/hate relationship.

A couple of months ago, I embarked upon a (mostly) DIY remodeling journey. My studio was badly in need of a new door, and replacing it opened up a whole can of "while I'm at it, I might as well_________." You know what I'm talking about. It's the idea that if you've already got one wall with a giant hole in it, you might as well work on the other three while you're at it, since you've already got a mess started.

I quickly came to regret ever opening that can of "while I'm at it". You can read about my adventures in remodeling here.

But getting back to the love/hate thing: I'd been designing and researching and thinking about my dream studio for years. I had a list of amenities as long as my arm and a budget as long as a gnat's arm. Nevertheless, at the top of the list was STORAGE. I was tired of climbing up on the workbench to root through boxes stored on shelves. I wanted drawers! A whole bank of them. With neatly lettered labels. I wanted to replace the funky old workbench with a wall of storage that looks sleek and clean and gives the appearance that I'm actually organized. (Stop laughing, Dave!)

My budget being practically non-existent, I naturally thought of Ikea, that bastion of DIY. I bought four dressers, each with four drawers, and all a clean, crisp white. I stacked my four flat boxes in the car and drove home, daydreaming about how I'd have them all assembled and in place in a few hours.

I've assembled Ikea furniture before, and most pieces are designed to be idiot proof as long as you follow the instructions to the letter. This can be a little difficult, as the instructions don't even have words, but I'm a visual person, so when I opened up the first box and spread all the parts out on the floor and took an inventory, I wasn't too worried about putting them together.

Caught up in the spirit of being newly organized and logical, I perused the instruction booklet to familiarize myself with the details. First, some cautions:

Before you start, you'll need a few tools:
  1. a pencil (you can steal get a free one at the store)
  2. a straight-slot screwdriver
  3. a Phillips-head screwdriver (I don't know why they call them Phillip...I don't see the resemblance)
  4. what looks like an ice pick (or an awl)
  5. a hammer

Next, it appears you need a helpful friend with a pencil behind his ear to assist you in scrutinizing the pile of parts.

After that, they are apparently cautioning you to assemble it on a rug because it's too fragile for the floor.

Last but not least, when you try to attach part C to parts A and B, you may become confused and have to call Customer Service.

The next page shows pictures of all the fasteners supplied to put the thing together. I counted 181 pieces, plus the 41 parts shown in the photo above, for a total of 222 parts. (I really did count them! Murphy's Law almost guarantees a trip back to the store if you don't.)

"Piece of cake," I how long did it take me? The first one took two hours. And then I opened the bottle of wine. I finished the other three in about two days, all by myself. (48 hours divided by 3 = 16 hours each) A total of eight hundred and eighty-eight parts, and I did it all without the friend with the pencil, because he was really only there to supervise.

I never did figure out what to do with the dang ice pick.


mo.stoneskin said...

My wife loves nothing more than a trip to Ikea. I like nothing less. The only way I can be persuaded to go is with extravagant bribes.

suburban farm said...

The results look so great that I am sure you will soon forget the trauma.

g said...

Oh, I learned, I learned well about Ikea.

Bookcases - YES. Anything to sit on - No.

When we lived in Norway, our Norwegian friends had a joke - they called Ikea "Ikke ha" which means "We don't have it." - testimony to many times going through the showroom only to find that the item you want is not in stock.

Cupcake Murphy said...

I have Post Traumatic Stress from an IKEA futon couch I assembled over the course of 900 weeks in the early 80s.

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